nytheatre.com review by Dianna Tucker Baritot
August 15, 2007
I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that the secret ingredient in Milly and Lilly's famous peanut butter is penis. It's in the press release. It's revealed in the opening scene. So when such a bomb is dropped so early in the show, one wonders: where can it go from here? Wasn't that the big reveal?
Apparently not. PB & J goes places you never quite think it's going to go. This story is not for the faint of heart or genitals. Centered around two sisters—the educated and controlling Milly (played by Amy L. Smith) and the innocent Lillie (played by Lisa Riegel)—Tara Dairman's absurdly hilarious script is equal parts Arsenic & Old Lace and Cabin Fever with a Lorena Bobbitt slant. Her tale of culinary entrepreneurship and rogue justice unfolds neatly as its characters are carefully developed through the numerous plot twists and narrative monologues.
It all begins, as most enterprises do, with an experiment gone unexpectedly right after the sisters discover the surprisingly pleasant flavor created when combining the roasted appendage of a deceased prison escapee and America's favorite spread. (Imagine an X-rated Reese's Peanut Butter Cup advertisement, if you will.) Together, the sisters concoct a scheme to earn the money they need to emigrate to a utopia where they can "speak French and eat maple syrup": Canada. It's when Lillie agrees to give an interview to her favorite well-endowed radio anchor Dick Longfellow (played by David Gable), whose desk job has been suspended by his boss and lover of Canadian porn (played by Mary Goggin), that things begin to go hysterically awry.
Under the elegant direction of Cyndy Marion, five actors deliver delicately prosaic and absurd dialogue loquaciously reminiscent of, say, Stephen Fry, but without the pretense. The farcical nature of the production requires the players to perform with tongue in cheek, but noses unthumbed. They comply with aplomb, (Juliet O'Brien goes so far as to give the French Canadian "intern" a transiently Slavic accent, punctuating the absurdity of her character) if not always without justifiably stumbling over some of the twistier lines.
However, while Marion ensures that the script and its rendering are well-executed, attention to some of the technical aspects of the show seems lacking. On one hand, costumes by Kylie Ward provide us with a sense of timeless ambiguity, supporting the program notes in their claim that the play takes place in the "present-ish," and Andis Gjoni's set is appropriately modular and semi-representational. On the other hand, the scenery proves to be overwhelming and clumsy for the stage crew during the sluggishly-paced set changes. Amusing sound bytes and radio jingle music by Joshua Salzman keep the audience entertained during the aforementioned gaps, but are played so loudly as to overwhelm the theatre's sound system with distortion. And, while I am usually the one to say that no properly hydrated human should be expected to sit for more than an hour without a break, I'm going to take one for the bladder: this show might play better without an intermission. The five-minute pause two-thirds of the way through the 90-minute production brought me off the edge of my seat and back into a slump, interrupting the flow of the story and causing a halt in the momentum built over the previous hour. What is otherwise a well-written ending seems almost anti-climactic.
Nevertheless, PB & J is laugh-out loud funny. It's smart. It's even a little touching and intense at times. It's everything it promises to be and a little bit more, and it's certainly worth the time and ticket price to go see it.